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Some of the legal profession’s foremost thought leaders gathered last week at the College of Law Practice Management’s 2013 Futures Conference, October 4-5, in Chicago. This year, a new format combined brief TED-style talks with longer breakout sessions on three topics: “The Market for Legal Services from the Buyer’s Point of View,” “Innovation in the Law Firm” and “The Future of U.S. Law Schools.”
Here are some of the things I learned.
1. In the future, many important aspects of legal representation will not be handled by lawyers, but by others possessing specific skills that will provide value to clients. One challenge is ensuring that these other professionals are treated as equals by lawyers. Indeed, the term “nonlawyers,” often used to describe these professionals, is increasingly becoming viewed as a slur.
2. Lawyers will need to understand and address the tectonic shifts occurring in our society, particularly in the areas of food and water, energy and technology. As a result, lawyers must continue to become knowledgeable about the industries they serve and the significant challenges that these industries face.
3. While innovation in law firms must be supported, and often instigated at the top, the key constituency that will decide whether such innovations are successful will be at the practice group level — because that’s where real decisions to provide value to clients occur.
4. While innovation has been and will continue to be driven from outside big law firms by market disruptors such as Riverview Law (which won one of the InnovAction Awards presented at the conference), it would be folly to underestimate what larger law firms are doing. As one participant noted, “Many of these firms are innovating. They’re just not talking about it.”
5. Law schools will have to adapt to the reality that far fewer graduates will enter law firms as traditional associates. Instead, legal educators will have to provide different tracks for lawyers who have a variety of career options, and provide relevant training (not just case law) for those students. Moreover, law schools may need to consider instituting relevant programs for those who are not interested in a law degree, but who will be key service providers in solving legal problems. (Just don’t call them nonlawyers!)
This year, for the first time, the Futures Conference plenary sessions were videotaped and made available online (including the keynote by Stephen Mayson). Check them out to see what you can learn about the future of the business of practicing law.
Stephen Nelson is Managing Principal of the Law & Government Affairs and Law Firm Administration practices at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve conducts searches for partners and high-level marketing, practice management and professional development professionals. Previously he served in high-level editorial and management positions at Legal Times and Prentice Hall Law & Business. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and served on the three-person planning committee for the 2013 Futures Conference.
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